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My Father as Teacher

Kevin Binnie in his workshop 1980

When I was seventeen I began working with my father, Kevin Binnie, in his engineering business. I admired my dad and knew him as a man of action, never cautious but driven to getting things done, always excited by the possibility of progress even if it meant a shortcut. Although I was so young, my approach was different and more cautious. It was inevitable we would clash and over the years we had many heated exchanges. The success of this volatile father-son combination, – which created many innovative and fine products – always seemed a miracle. There were no suppressed feelings and huge battles of ideas along the way.

Success at work gave Dad buying power – a great source of joy for him but intense concern for the family. I had accepted early that my dad was adventurous – our mother’s worry was palpable when he considered buying a aeroplane. For her sake, he modified these plans – he would buy a flying boat! The family’s anxiety was perpetual because that adventurous spirit with the constant goal of reaching a destination in the shortest possible time was something he never outgrew. Life for Dad was never about the pleasures of a slow journey. He suffered chronic back pain which always reminded him of his lone and foolhardy attempt to install a heavy hoist, single-handedly, by hauling it up a ladder.

With business decisions Dad was the same – an idea for a machine would be developed with no regard for established methods of planning or research. Not surprisingly then, there were mixed results – award winning successes and a few results others might see as failures. Dad benefited from mistakes; these were an opportunity for new learning. My father never defined himself by his skills or the business bottom line; he was driven by some powerful spirit directing his need to create. He often drew a design, impulsively, in the dust of a workshop floor, to share his excitement with staff.  It was said of Dad ‘He could think in 3D when those around him might struggle with 2D’.

Sons can learn from fathers in many ways. I learnt a lot from Dad by working alongside him for over twenty years. Sometimes I learned by his frightening example to do the opposite  – to slow down, to take great care of myself, of others and all the workshop equipment and I saw the necessity of attention to detail, careful planning and evaluation at every stage of manufacture.

Years later, I think of my father, Kevin Binnie, award winning innovator and highly successful businessman. I envy him that ‘engineering brain’ and his diverse abilities. How I wish I could design machinery as he did – with a few quick sketches and, seemingly, so little effort.

To the relief of our family my father did, eventually, abandon dreams of an aeroplane and a flying boat and enjoyed a long working life frequenting the large factory he had built from nothing but ideas, risks, enthusiasm and hard work.  He didn’t actually retire and worked right up until his death from mesothelioma when he was 73.  How fortunate I was to observe his passion, to learn with him and, so often, to rejoice at our results. Now, as a manufacturer myself, I am grateful for all those lessons with their positive and negative messages.

Thanks Dad, we had our moments but you provided me with unlimited opportunities to learn. Now, as a manufacturer myself, I understand there are many ways to design and make something of quality of which I can be as excited as you were.